This little blog is directed to anyone who is thinking of taking the step to make Ocha. In particular I will emphasis the year of initiation, the Iyawo year, the so called year in white,
What does it mean to make Ocha?
Making Ocha refers to the ceremony of Kariocha where the tutelary Orisha of the person is seated in the person’s crown. The Orisha is aligned with the person’s inner head. The person also receives various Orisha that are born during the ceremony that will have to be looked after and cared for. This is a life long process. The ceremonies take place across the period of a week, however the whole process takes a year and seven days before someone becomes a Santero/Santera and it should be explained to each and every person making Ocha that the ceremony and process takes a year and seven days since unfortunately many come away after seven days and carry on as per usual seemingly forgetting that they have undergone a serious process. The person who has made Ocha is reborn. They must make a break with what has gone before. Their life is a new one since it has been realigned with Orisha. One is entering a priesthood therefore it is important to give time to this process.
Who HAS to make Ocha and why ?
In all fairness, according to divination not many people have to make Ocha. There are only certain signs which marks a person for Ocha. But it has become a fad or a fashion to automatically pass through each stage of initiation culminating in making Ocha without it really being necessary. Making Ocha is a serious realignment. I have to make the analogy of making Ocha with surgery on the brain to bring to life the importance and seriousness of going through this initiation. Some people will have to make Ocha to help themselves and to bring them health and when everything else has failed. Other people are destined for Ocha because they are here to represent Orisha and help others fulfill their destiny. They are the true priests and priestess of the religion working to help those in the community. It seems to be the case now that so many people are making Ocha and by doing so they are neither helping themselves or helping others and this has to be put down to the fact that the religion has become a business for some rather than a spiritual path which involves personal development and evolution. It also seems to be the case that there is a certain prestige amongst some communities to have the title “ Santero” and ego may get in the way of what is truly necessary for a person’s evolution.
But it all starts with the Iyawo year.
The Year of the Iyawo.
My pet hate has to be the badly behaved Iyawo. The Iyawo that is out and about drinking, dancing , partying, arguing in public, out after 6pm, make up, beer in hand, and so on and so forth. The only thing they seem to do is to wear white….. most of the time. But it is not all about wearing white. The Iyawo year is about attitude, about how you behave during that year, about sacrificing your old ways, it is about ritual, it is about keeping quiet and silent and meditating on your new path. You require peace and quiet and a stress free time to allow the Orisha to settle in your head. For those of you who do not know or understand the history of this religion, you need to take into consideration the fact that this religion and path was scorned upon before the revolution in Cuba and afterwards it was prohibited. Only recently after the Pope’s first visit to Cuba in the 1990’s was worship of the religion legalized. Those that made Ocha pre those times could not dress publicly in white. They had to hide away their beads of initation and they had to dress in normal clothes attending work or school and change as soon as they got home. In those days it was truly about sacrifice and about inner spirituality as opposed to an outer show of what they had been through. I am not saying that the wearing of white is not important. The wearing of white, Obatala’s cloth, on a continuous basis is a really powerful Ebo which is purifying and protective. However what is the point in wearing white, if you are going out to party after 6.00pm; if you are in constant contact with the uninitiated, if you are drinking alcohol, if you are not protecting yourself? I could carry on! I find it continuously shocking that anyone would spend the large derecho needed for the ceremony of Kariocha only to spend the whole year completely disobeying the rules. I have heard several excuses for this type of behaviour. One of the most common is, “ My godmother lets me”, My one and only comment in response to this old chestnut is. “If your godmother lets you, then she really does not care for your spiritual development”. The UK experience must be similar to most places where there is not a fully fledged community. Here in London, it is a difficult scenario. As far as I know no one has been initiated here. Regarding the Lucumi branch of the religion most people here have been initiated in Cuba or the US. They are far away from their Iles and don’t seem to be have a lot of guidance regarding rules, ritual and general care. Sometimes I wonder whether this is convenient for some individuals. The idea that no one is watching over them seems to be attractive to some, and they forget that the rules have been put in place to protect them.
I cannot believe that people who are on this path are not aware of the rules that govern the Iyawo year. We don’t live in a bubble. Do people truly believe they are a special case? Do they believe that the rules apply to everyone except themselves. Come on guys, it is ONE year only. If you cannot sacrifice your normal routine, how are you going to keep to your Ita (personal guidelines from Orisha given when you get initiated) and follow your taboos. It’s one year and it will never ever happen again.
This religion is not for everyone, this path is a difficult one. The more Orisha you receive the more advice you have to follow. Every step you take may require more sacrifice; more inward looking, more challenges, are you ready? Making Ocha is not a miracle cure. No one makes anyone go through it and following advise and sticking to taboos is between you and the Orisha. But think very carefully before you take this step.
The Worship of ancestors, of God and of Orisha is for everyone, but following the path and becoming a priest, and for some, serving the community is another. It is truly for selected heads.
There are many sources of information explaining what is required during the Iyawo Year. So I have not gone into detail, but if you are interested, here are some links:
http://www.orishanet.org/iyawo.html A little introduction explaining the importance of breaking the old ways and embracing the new.
Some of the rules set out in this Blog:
A very well written blog.
More information about basic rules
and some more interesting comments regarding the Godparent and Godchild relationship:
More ideas of the rules:
What every Ile you belong to, you can be assured that the basic rules are the same. There are fundamental rules that cross all family lines although there may be small minor differences.
Reflections and Diaries of the Iyawo Year:
Here is my reflection of my Iyawo year that wrote in Feb 2007
As I come to the end of my year…………………………….
These are some reflections of the past year as an Iyawo. I am about to complete my year on 9 February 2007, where I will spend it in Cuba. For those who read this who doesn’t know what is an Iyawo, here is a brief explanation. In Yoruba, Iyawo means Bride. In the Lucumi religion (also known as Santeria or Regla de Ocha) an Iyawo is a Bride of the Orisha. One becomes an Iyawo after having becoming initated as a priest/ess of the religion. It is after you are ” crowned” with the Orisha that rules your head. During the following year, the Iyawo is a baby just reborn and is vulnerable. During the year the Iyawo has to wear white. White is a healing colour and it repels negative energy. It is the year to reflect, to nurture and to sacrifice one’s daily routine. It is also the year to get to know one’s self and one’s Orisha. Therefore, there is no going out, partying, drinking etc. The Iyawo has a strict code of conduct in order to protect himself/ herself and her head. In addition to wearing white s/he has to drink out of a special cup and eats with a special spoon. The Elekes and Ide(sacred necklaces and Bracelet) are worn throughout the Year. Makeup and Perfume are taboo as is using any chemical produce, and contact with the uninitiated is prohibited.
So how did I get on throughout my year as an Iyawo. It is not an easy year. For those who knew me, it was probably quite a big shock, being the ultimate party girl. However, partying was not a thing I missed at all. The first three months, I was on such a spiritual high that I enjoyed the peace and quite that had been bestowed on me. I read a lot, began to make stuff (fans and elekes) and after my third month I moved house and so settling in took a lot of my time. I also began to learn Yoruba, and so was never at a loss for things to do. Also keeping my whites clean took time and dedication! And I have to say I am apprehensive but excited about wearing colours again!
I learned a lot during this year. I learned about my strengths and weaknesses. Learned that I have patience but that I cannot stand injustice and find it difficult to keep my mouth shut when I see something unjust. I learned to accept and love myself and found it easier than I thought to ditch the make up! I learned to appreciate what I have in terms of family and learned to be calm in most circumstances. I also learned what Ochun wants for me and what she doesn´t. But things were not all roses. It was hard for me to be alone. I found that I felt quite disconnected at times. Many friends I thought I had were good time friends and since there was no more partying I didn’t see these “friends” for dust. It was hard to walk the streets in London dressed all in white. I had some wonderful comments on how beautiful I looked, but I also received my fare share of abuse, and strange happenings. I even got spat at once. Emotionally it was not easy and it was hard to be a single mum and yet feel as vulnerable as a child at the same time. It was also hard with my work as a musician and co-ordinating workshops on Afro-Cuban song and dance. I was unable to participate in the workshops in the first three months before I was presented to the drum. (Part of the initiation of a santero), and even afterwards, I would get the odd shaky moment. My highlights had to be my trips to Cuba: I went back to do my presentation to Aña, and my three month ebbo, another important ceremony. I then went at New Year with a group and spend two days in Matanzas which for me was very special as an Iyawo. I am looking forward to coming to the end of this special time but I will miss being an Iyawo and will look back on this year with a lot of love. I am looking mostly forward to going to see live music and taking part in “normal” life but I am also looking forward to a new life as a Santera, I am ready to learn and participate.
Here are two more different experiences from two different Blogs:
and Mr Oshun’s excellent Diary which kept me sane during my Iyawo year.
The Iyawo Experience
The same day that I wrote this blog, I received some very sad news regarding something that had happened to someone I know. I have seen many things that are quite extreme happen to people that have made Ocha and passed to Ifa also. The news that I received today reminded me to say that making Ocha is no miracle cure. As priests we are not immune from challenges and lessons that other people may face; far from it. If a person makes Ocha and takes a dark path, which may include the carrying of arms as a civilian, the dealing of drugs, the harming of other indviduals, a life of crime and so on, using their power as priests to abuse other human beings they can expect to be punished like any other. I say this without instilling fear. This is just common sense. Those that have made Ocha are lucky in that our personal Itas will warn us to be wary of certain situations and constant checking in with Ifa or Elegua will ensure that we are aware of anything in our behavior or circumstances which will cause us misfortune ( Osorgbo) . It is important that we all take responsibility for our paths and don’t blame anyone or anything else for misfortunes.
As priests and as parents we sometimes make a lot of sacrifices to make Ocha to our children. We do this in the knowledge that they may have difficult paths and need that extra guidance from Orisha. But we can only go so far. At the end we have to let go and let our children listen to their Orisha, their Ita, and their own Ori and hope that they will do the right thing.
I hope this information will be of use to anyone thinking of making Ocha, anyone in their Iyawo year who may have found the year extremely difficult, parents that are thinking about initiating their children and to those who are just generally interested in the Lucumi path.