Lineage, Initiation, entitlement and appropriation: Part 1

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by Céline Siani Djiakoua

The other day, I came across a Facebook/instagram friend posing with two cards from an Orisha tarot deck, with “messages” from the Orisha. The messages quite frankly were very general, superficial  and flippant.   I was surprised and concerned since I know the person not to be involved in the Orisha way of life, and if she had been, she would not be posing in the park,  giving messages  from the Orisha on social media. I picked her up on it and pointed out nicely that Orisha do not communicate via tarot cards. The mouthpiece of Orisha is the Dilogun. We became locked into a civilised debate where she decided to change her wording and say, it was not Orisha but spirit that were giving her these messages. Although the debate was civilised she accused me of being “over- sensitive”. I asked if she was following the Orisha path, and she said it was not her chosen spiritual path. I tried to point out why I had found it important to address her post. I believe I was as courteous as possible and that as an Iyalorisha it is important to address misinformation when it pops up.

In the same week there was a debate online around a controversial figure who had hundreds of godchildren, yet her practise was not recognisable and seemed to be a mish mash of various traditions without any particular lineage. Her practise seemed to include the godchildren washing their own Elekes and guidance from information picked up from a book that anyone can buy and access.  She claimed not to be Lucumi, yet her Elekes were from the Lucumi tradition. She gave Warriors that look like Lucumi Warriors, yet she kept stating that she is not Lucumi.  Of course, many Lucumi Practitioners were upset with this and a debate ensued. The woman in question was approached but despite the fact that she acknowledged that she was ignorant about certain things, she decided to block all those who were approaching her with the correct information and authority.

I have also noticed that there are individuals that believe that because they may have African Ancestry they are able to channel Orisha by Osmosis and that this is their birth right. Furthermore, I have noticed on social media the presence of  individuals  holding strange made up ceremonies mixing new age stuff with Orisha Worship. None of this sits right with me.

Why do we get so upset? Why are we so “ sensitive”? Why is it so important for us to address individuals who do what they wish, perhaps with good intention?

The Orisha way of life, indeed any tradition with African Roots, involves initiation. This is an unescapable fact. Whether you are in Africa, Cuba, the USA, or the UK, or anywhere else,  the only way that you have access to the secrets of Orisha worship and its’ complexities is by initiation and study with elders. This tradition is lineage based. In Lucumi we are connected via initiation to generations before us. Our Orisha are born from our godparents Orisha, and their Orisha are born from their godparents Orisha and so on. When we pray, we mention the names of our ancestors in our Orisha lineages in addition to our blood line family. You cannot connect in any other way. Reading books, looking at you tube videos is not going educate you. This tradition is community based.  We are never initiated by only one person. A community is involved in ANY type of initiation and if you are in the unfortunate situation where there are no witnesses to your initiation, it is NOT legitimate.

One other reason why Lucumi practitioners feel so strongly about defending their lineages and traditions is that our ancestors suffered being taken by force from their land, and whilst many died and did not survive the middle passage, those that did, recreated what they knew in a different context under years of oppression, denunciation, secrecy and even under the revolution, persecution. We have to thank those that came before us for the reason why we are connected with Orisha. If it was not for these individuals  there would be no consciousness regarding Orisha. More than likely it was the Lucumi who were responsible for a general global consciousness and accessibility to this way of life. For good and for bad.

Those individuals  that choose not to acknowledge what our ancestors went through to carry the secrets, knowledge and beauty of this way of life, are clearly not only disrespectful but are clearly entitled and that, unfortunately comes from being brought up in countries that hold the deep seated and mistaken philosophy that they can take from other countries and cultures and use it as they will.

African ancestry does not give you the authority to self- initiate. Even in Africa access to Orisha comes with initiation and this traditionally was family based. In the Diaspora, the family unit was recreated via divination, but initiation and education and guidance from elders is still important when it comes to being able to initiate others and impart information.

This blog entry is asking for humility.  Understand the roots of this practise, don’t ignore and by pass those who suffered possible humiliation, incarceration and persecution, who carried on practising and believing  in order to carry on this tradition and pass it on to children and godchildren. If you cannot do this, then unfortunately you are displaying traits that reflect the society that has moulded you and you seriously need to question yourselves.

Lastly Orisha is a  buzz word at the moment. Many non-practitioners are using this tradition for their own, usually commercial ends,  without paying due respect to those that live this tradition.  This is appropriation. Question everything you read, is it plausible? Have they paid respect to those that have supplied them with information? All I ask is that people respect those that are carrying the knowledge, and recognise that the information accessible to them has a source that needs to be acknowledged and respected.

Ibae Bae T’Orun Gbogbo Egun, Timbalese Timbalaye Olodumare.

 

4 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this, I am a Ngoni person ( of Zulu, Swati origin) and I am on the Kushitic-Kemetic path/tradition which corresponds more with our traditions of Amathongo, but I am really appreciative of what you do from the Orisha way. It is quite an elaborate and deeply spiritual science, but you do it with such grace. May your Ancestors forever guide you. Ase!

    1. Thankyou so much for your positive comment and feedback. It is very much appreciated!

  2. Wanda OmiLade

    Thank you – Ase Alafia—keep our traditions in its roots.

  3. Well said! Ashe!

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