WHAT AIN'T IN IFA--ASTROLOGY
A Quick Review of Two Sample YouTube Videos, And One Written Source,
Suggesting That Astrology Is An Actual Part of Orisha/Ifa Religion.
“West Africa’s Orisha and Astrology”
By Soyinka I Ogunbusola (posted by Chief Awodele Ifayemi)
Before we begin, let me say what the issue is here! The core question is "do we find any evidence
whatsoever that "astrology" is a generic part of the religion of Orisha/ Ifa?" The answer is resound- ing no. Those who assert or imply that it is are misleading their readers and video viewers . And those that say that Orisha/Ifa has correspondences or can be likened to astrology are also mislead-
ing. I researched the history of astrology in Yorubaland and found the earliest book written on this
purported correspondence to be "Astrological Geomancy In Africa," by Prof. J.A. Abayomi Cole in
1898. I am one of the few who has this book because it was published in California by the great
Akan botanist Kali Sichen-Andoh (whom I met) in 1989. Prof. Cole was initiated as an Ifa priest, but
whether or not he was actually a babalawo is a mystery to me. (And, there is some reason to doubt
his thoroughness in Ifa in view of a few egregious errors that he made in his very cursory descrip- tion of one of the most important "Olodu" in the Ifa corpus because Mr. Andoh had to apologet- tically explain away the error that the professor made in straining to depict the Olodu "Obara" as "the 8 house (sic)" of the Zodaical astrological scheme. I will comment further on this book at the end of this essay.
In contemporary times, however, we find a recent author, Soyinka I Ogunbusola, an African-Amer- ican science fiction writer, and a member of the American Federation of Astrologers, who is one that definitively asserts—not simply who likens Orisha/Ifa religion to KMT astrology--but who also asserts that astrology is a part of Orisha/Ifa religion. I respectfully dissent from that view as something, regardless of how sincere and helpful she may view her public contributions on this subject to be, that is unwarranted and probably misrepresents the religion as well. For example, she writes:
[All comments in parentheses are mine]
“…The various planets influence the actions of man since time immemorial and has been recogn- ized, as such, by all indigenous cultures around the globe under its numerous names.” (Not true;
not "all" cultures are "astrological").
“…The foundation of a culture’s spiritual system is influenced by the celestial bodies and their movement in the heavens inspired them to erect monuments that marked the solstices and equinoxes as well as the transits of the planets…” (Or the religionists of astrology so believe)
“…It’s the descendants of (ancient Egypt) who migrated from the Nile Valley and the Great Lakes region over period of generations became known as the Yoruba of Southwest Nigeria.” (Ques- tionable: From upper Nubia and the south Sudan, yes, but what is the evidence that the “descend- ants of ancient Egypt”—whomever they were--migrated to Yorubaland? The legend of Oduduwa does not claim that he came from Egypt).
“…They practiced a religion that acknowledged “the creator through the forces of nature...” (True)
“…Within the elements of “earth, wind, water and fire…there exists an entire pantheon of deities known as Orisha…”(Here she introduces a Hermetic terrestrial cliché: “earth, wind, air and fire,” but this reductionist formulation of the world’s physical nature, and of the orishas, in her view, is not Yoruba religion. True, some orishas are so associated with physical nature, but there are hundreds more that are not; starting with orisha Ela and Orunmila, but include many more).
“…The Orishas’ characters are based on the characteristic nature of the planets; their movements, such as oppositions, trines, sextiles, and conjunctions in a astrology and astronomy. (Says who? This is simply not true).
“…The celestial events are interpreted from the Yoruba’s own cultural perspective.” (What is the evidence that traditional Yorubas paid any attention to "astrological celestial events” as phen- omena or worshiped the moon or the sun as anthropomorphic personalities or animals; that is, as "astrological" entities? As an astronomical matter, except for recognizing the radiant power of the sun and the gravitational power of the moon, there are precious few devotional or prayer practices in Yoruba involving either, nor addressing or praising the one genderless God Almighty (Olodum- are) for that matter. The concept "Olorun" embraces the whole firmament (sometimes called "Ot- unowa" or the "heavenly world above"; including the sun). And there is, as far as I know, only one ritual and one song that evokes the blessings of Olorun; also including the sun (though I have heard several songs to "Olodumare"--almost treating "God" as a monotheist would--but they seem to be sung by Christianized Yorubas who still refer to God this way; but seem not to mention any
other "polytheistic" orishas. It is called "Nanga (i)re ...ooo" and is rarely practiced; and has Islamic cultural roots, to boot. Actually, "Olorun" is the God of "pre-creation" (if I may coin a term). "Ela" is all of Creation, and "Odu" is the totality of all experiences that can occur, and the things that can be, within the Universe of Creation. Together, Ela and Odu gave birth to Orunmila, the first witness to, and the formless son of, Creation).
Further, all astrological systems depend on the culture having possessed and regularly used a type of mathematical legacy or acumen necessary for yearly calendar construction and predictions of the orbits of planets and stars on a calendared basis (These two things are necessary to construct ephemerides tables that are fundamental to all astrology). That "Olorun"--the god of the heavenly firmament "above"--is sometimes associated with the sun, or that Yemoja, with the moon (both Yoruba deities) is a religious matter; not an "astrological" one. These heavenly bodies do not them- selves affect human destinies.
In fact, once more, as is the case with our genderless God Almighty there are precious few songs and prayers referencing Olorun. Again, the "Nanga (i)re-ooo" ritual and song. And this devotional act is the simplest and shortest in the entire religion. By contrast, the orishas do affect human nat- ure and have the agency (will power) to affect individual human destinies and , accordingly, are thus regarded as "gods." That the sun heats the earth or the moon affects tides are astronomical phenomena, not astrological ones (and are operative for all bodies with mass and radiant energy all over the observable universe).
…“The twelve houses of the natal chart (in KMT, Grecian and Hermetic astrology--M.O.) are areas of life governed by a particular planet...in regards to traditional Yoruba’s cultural perspect- ive…(and) “one’s existence these houses would be ruled by a particular essence in nature or Oris- ha. (This sentence is gobbledygook; what does “would be ruled” mean? Is she admitting the ob-
vious here—i.e., she is simply drawing on Grecian-Egyptian astrology of the 13th through 3rd turies BCE, and carried on by the Mediterranean-rim Hermeticists thereafter, that she then graphs onto traditional Yoruba in order to make it appear that these sub-Saharan Africans actually bel- ieved in and practiced astrology).
Going on, speaking of the twelve customary astrological Houses she says, that “the varying Orishas ruled them in the following ways.” (No sources are cited—authoritative or otherwise--of course. In reality, I believe that she has projected into Yoruba religion the Egyptian astrologers' typology of their gods as rulers of various “Houses” or, in western astrology, the planets as rulers of the same, as well).
In her view, the listing of the “houses” that the various orishas occupy and rule go as follows: First House (Ogun), Second House (Oshun), Third House (Ibeji), Fourth House (Yemoja), Fifth House (Osiris), Sixth House (Eshu), Seventh House (Oshun), Eighth House (Oya), Ninth House (Obatala), Tenth House (Babaluaiye), Eleventh House (Shango, Ogun and Oya), and the Twelfth House (Olok- un).” (Where in traditional Yoruba religion did she come up with this? In the ese Ifa? In the odus? In the patakins? If so, recited when, where, and by whom).
When compared, KMT astrology’s “houses” were ruled by 12 of their 2,000 deities: Her emulation of KMT astrology-- from the period of 1,300 BCE to the time of Christ thereafter (in Ptolemaic and Hermetic terms) projects onto Orisha/Ifa an analogue to the following scheme: First House (Nile), Second House (Amun-Ra), Third House (Mut), Fourth House (Geb), Fifth House (Osiris), Six House (Isis), Seven House (Thoth), Eighth House (Horus), Ninth House (Anubis), Tenth House (Seth), Eleventh House (Bastet), and the Twelfth House (Sekhmet). And, as mentioned, in modern west- ern astrology, these deities are replaced by Zodiacal signs and planets.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here, I offer a gentle reminder—using just one of her twelve examples—that should issue to peo- ple who believe as does this author: By contrast, for example, Oshun’s children sing “Iya mi ile odo. Gbogbo ashe. Obi ni sala maa wo e…”This means “My mother’s house is the river. All goodness and power comes (from there). Women who seek safety frequently visit her (there)." Oshun, “iyalode”—"top woman in charge”—is symbolically and theologically our “cosmic seamstress” ; though not literally (Olodumare is!). She, by tradition, used her five needles and “sewed together the fabric of the Universe.” But neither in the odus nor in orin orisha,i.e., the holy oral libraries of wisdom and songs of Yoruba religion, respectively) do we find Oshun saying that her home is in the “second Zodiacal House” nor does she trouble herself with references to “celestial planet- ary movements such as oppositions, trines, sextiles, and conjunctions” as having anything whatsoever to do with "eniyan" (humanity) nor "aiye" (the world), as this author would have it).
Again, in contradistinction to her view, our religion of Orisha/Ifa, teaches us the our ori inu (our true selves) while in Heaven, was crafted by Ajala and then allowed to choose an Earthly des- tiny. And this, in turn, allowed us to choose anew our general “story-line” or life plot, and our im- mutable characteristics (e.g., one’s biologic gender, or one’s current epoch) and, finally, our in- telligence level for that incarnation. These things are re-born in us in each earthly incarnation as we are accompanied, once again, to Earth by our ori inu. All of these features of one’s Ori (one’s “Head”), when put together, determine the fulfillment (or not) of one’s destiny; not the positions and movements of stars and planets! Instead, in ceremonies given to girl babies at sev- en days of age, to twins at eight days of age, or to boys at nine days of age, their destinies are “read” in Ifa’s imori ceremony, followed by the essent’ayie ceremony where the baby’s feet are al- lowed to touch the ipon tray of the babalawo before it is allowed to have its feet touch the earth. (The New World equivalent of this destiny reading—which occurs as a part of a person’s deep initiation regardless of age—occurs in the "ita" ceremony. This word comes from itan which means a “book”--in this case, a book of one’s life).
Astrology is now, and always has been, a de facto pseudo-science religion for whom “the Cos- mos” is God! Astrology, therefore, as applied to sub-Saharan Africa, is neither authentic, reliable, valid, nor useful (as it does not enhance one’s priestly ashe one iota. And, in my view, indeed, dim- inishes it). I irrevocably deny to it any validity at all. But this analysis is simply my view.
But to live is to make choices: Thus, a second word of advice that I may humbly offer to our friends and fellow travelors is that they would do better to follow the path of tradition and not con- fuse it with astrotheology or the religion of astrology. Astrotheology is laden with Eurocentric (i.e., Grecian and medieval) Hermeticism. But a person is free to indulge in, or even to undergo additional religious initiations or certifications, even in astrology (which I definitely believe to be a religion without a single iota of truth regarding its predictive properties). Yet a serious down- ward pressure should be exerted or self-imposed on our tendencies to syncretize belief systems that are not a part of orò (i.e. not a part of our established tradition).
“Orisha Rulers of the Zodiac”
By “The Gnostic Dread”
[All comments in parentheses are mine]
This website openly proclaims Hermeticism and unabashedly declares that each orisha is to be equated with the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The good thing here is that these authors are--by their own terms—openly speculating in conjecture about the similarities between Orisha/Ifa religion and Greco-Egyptian Hermeticism, as they do not claim—unlike the rather naïve claims of Soyinka I Ogunbusola described above--'astrology is a part of Orisha/Ifa religion.' They, quite responsibly, say that the Zodiac houses’ essences may be equated with the differing types of ashe that are un- ique to the varying orishas (even though this is not true even regarding comparisons).
Nevertheles, comparisons to other de jure religions (or to a de facto religion like astrology) may be simple a heuristic device for illustrative uses. That is acceptable, even if their hypotheses are wrong. But that is where it should stop because comparisons should not be morphed into histor- ically false and incompetent direct attributions. Such is the stuff of the cultural imperialism of the Eurocentric world-- and it does not matter who—whether Africans or North Americans--adopt or countenance it. We should be wary of the Hermeticism that some seek to syncretize into African traditional religion through this route.
In this case, in exactly the same way that abure ire mi (my religious sister of good fortune) Soyinka Ogunbosula does, the authors say that the Zodiacal signs (“houses”) are associated with the oris- has in the following ways: First House/Sign “home of the Ascendant” (Ogun), Second House/Sign “Taurus” (Oshun), Third House/ Sign “Gemini” (Ibejis), Fourth House/Sign “Cancer” (Yemoja), House /Sign “Leo” (Orunmila), Six House/ Sign “Virgo” (Eshu--this formulation is really nonsense!), Sev- en House/Sign “Libra” (Obba), Eighth House/Sign “Scorpio” (Oya), Ninth House/Sign “Sagittarius” (Obatala), Tenth House/Sign “Capricorn” (Babaluaiye), Eleventh House/ Sign “Aquarius” (Shango) and the 12th House/ Sign “Pisces” (Olokun).
Neither the sources nor the justifications of these propositions are addressed. Indeed, these com- parisons or “equations” are simplistic to the point of banality. The nature, for example, of the Ibejis, has not a thing to do with the stereotypes of “Geminis” beyond them both being twins. Nor again, for example, do the distinctive characteristics of Oshun have anything to do with the per- sonalities or destinies of those stereotypically born under the sign of Taurus. That they might is, more likely than not, speculative poppycock. And, finally, nowhere in the odus do we find Yem- oja uttering words asserting her authority specifically over the children of “Cancer.”She is the mot- her of the “fish children” whose domain is in the rivers and seas (Yemoja = “mother of the fish child- ren”= "yeye omo eja").
"Astrological Geomancy In Africa,"
by Prof. J.A. Abayomi Cole (1898)
Publ. by Kali Sichen-Andoh, Northscale Inst. San Francisco, 1989
As mentioned in the introduction to this essay, more than a century ago, prof. Cole wrote that Ifa's
corpus "corresponded" to the Babylonia, KMT, Hellenistic, Roman and Arabic astrology. At most,
the term "corresponded" to horoscopic (Zodiacal) astrology's "houses" was a bit strained. He men- tioned that Ifa's 16 major odus ("Olodus" or chapters and verses) corresponded in the following way:
"This accounts for the sixteen palm nuts used in Yoruba divination--all corresponding
to the twelve houses of the heavens + the two Geomantic witnesses + one Geoman-
tic judge + one Grand judge, the fifteenth figure of the first house, all equal to six-
Says who in Ifa? No one. Not a single odus of the 256 total ones, recites anything about astrological houses and judges. Next, he opines:
"The eight house is called Obara, or Ile Iku, that is, the house of death. It is also called
Akala, or vulture, the name of the bird of prey, which symbolizes death and destruc-
tion, corresponding to the Egyptian name Almankushu, i.e., the Demolisher."
First, the Olodu "Obara" is not the 8th olodu in any system of Ifa. Nor is Obara the "house of death
(iku) in any system of Ifa (it is virtually the opposite conceptually). This was so much at variance
from the Ifa that the editor, Mr. Andoh, had to apologetically explain this away as a 'bad transla- tion" of prof. Cole's writing (p. 53 of the epilogue to the book). Additionally, prof. Cole revealed
the influence of Christianity and Medterranean-rim theosophy by saying "On a certain day, Ifa
(Orunmila) returned from the sea hungry and exhausted, having caught no fish. He thereupon con-
sulted the god Elegba (the devil) what to do." [Emphasis added]. Elegba is not "the devil." This
choice of words occurs from time-to-time in writings by Ifa priests--especially in the old days, be-
cause they were incorporating Christian indoctrinations into their Doctor of Divinity treatises on Ifa in UK and French universities. (Please see my essay "Conceptions of Ifa: Old World and New," in the appendix of my 1996 book African Spirituality vs. The African-American--available on this web- site--for descriptions of how and why earlyAfrican Ifa scholars frequently incoporated Christian concepts into the expositions on Ifa in order to try to further "legitimize" it as a world-class religion to an English-reading international audience).
Then we have the glaring inconsistency in prof. Cole's efforts to liken Ifa's odus to astrology's horoscopic or Zodiacal 12 houses that depicts the "eight house" (8th house) as showing the Olodu Oshe (Merunla in Cuba) not Obara.
Unfortunately, in the total of 61 pages in this booklet, there is not another word about Ifa (save Andoh's preface). The entirety of the rest of the book is about various Mediterranean-rim cultures'
views about astrology. Even Mr. Andoh's preface to the book concedes that the only Africans that
had any cultural legacy of astrology were north (Arabized) Africans who, given their locations,
could actually study the night sky on a consistent basis. These manifestly do not include the sub-
Saharan Africans the likes of whom practiced Ifa. In professor Cole's case, after writing about Ifa
parables methods wrote exactly one sentence in the book about astrology being in Ifa: Again:
"....This accounts [this story about how Elegua taught the first babalawo divin-
ation] for the sixteen palm nuts used in Yoruba divination corresponding to
the twelve houses of the heavens + two geomantic witnesses + one geoman-
tic judge obtained by the permutation of the judge, the fifteenth figure, with
the figure of the first house, all equal to sixteen figures."
But, again, there is only one problem here. Not a single odu (nor any other source) is cited to authorize this conjecture. And so it goes with the astrotheologists who--downhill from there-- would seek to import into Ifa these Medeterranean-rim philosophies and religions in order to seek legitization as a world class religion in the eyes of Europeans and their unwitting progeny--includ- ing Pan-African Spiritualists among the African Americans.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The Religion of Astrology Described
For my purposes, I assert that, in its essence, astrology is still a religion and has never ceased to be one. It is a belief system that ascribes to its God (a God called “Cosmos”) the role of creating and setting into motion heavenly bodies such as planets and stars that, for their parts have agency, have temperaments (and, thus, personalities) which emanate “energy” (light, if nothing else) cap- able of affecting and governing the terrestrial, social, and personal fates of events and human destinies on Earth. Its religious rituals are in the nature of astrological chart constructions, and its ceremonies consists of conventions in which its adherents enjoy pontification about each others' canons and conventions of belief (or debate them). This is it; pure and simple--religion.
A quick review of its history—insofar as the Western astrological legacy is concerned—is in order. But this is only done to comment on the typical cultural, socio-economic and ecological elements and prerequisites that a culture would have to have in place before its rudimentary astronomy could evolve into a belief system like that which we call astrology.
All credible authorities, as mentioned, date astrology’s advent to the Babylonians in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) no earlier than the 22nd to 24th century BCE. At that time, sufficient mathem- atical skill had evolved to create calendars that recorded the annual appearances of fixed stars and illusory projections utilizing them called constellations as well as the movements of the plan- ets (which originally meant celestial “moving objects” that included the moon) against the back- drop of the nightly star canopy. Annual periodic events on earth such as seasonal changes, the flooding of rivers or droughts, the migrations and availability of animals, fishes, and vegetation at certain times, the acts of cultivating and irrigating fields or the sowing and harvesting of crops, and changes in sea conditions (for cultures involving seafaring) were all facilitated by that culture's mastery of astronomy.
And astronomy, of course, required a certain development of mathematics and geometry that could then be used to correlate and predict in time celestial and earthly changing conditions. At first, the relationship was one of correlation, and not of causation. The causes of terrestrial chan- ges were attributed to God— a grand spiritual or, sometimes, metaphysical force. It was not a far step then to conclude that a few celestial events were so powerfully correlated—like phases of the moon being correlated with the tides, or seasonal sunlight being correlated with crop growth or desertification—that the relationship between the celestial objects and earth must be causal in nature. And, following from that, therefore, other celestial bodies like planets must also have causal influences on earth. By comparison to astro-physics today, little was actually known about the physics of cosmology in ancient times.
For example, there was no knowledge of how large or how far away was the sun, nor the moon. The natures of various types of radiant energies were also unknown. And it was not distinguish- ed from reflective energy (e.g., neither the moon nor the planets emanate radiant energy; they merely reflect the sun’s radiant energy-- which is why, unlike stars, they never “blink” in the night sky). And it was certainly not known that the most powerful forces and determinants in cosmology
were electrical-magnetic and plasmic in nature; not gravitational.
The truly ancient Egyptians of the early dynastic periods were able to mathematically calculate the circumference of the earth and to determine relative earthly latitudes, but not longitudes. They, indeed, had sufficient numerical and geometric skills to do so. They also had projections onto the night sky—sky charts-- of the fixed stars that constituted many constellations. (Actually, there are no “constellations” in the cosmos. What we call “constellations” are merely human projections and conventional labels, as seen from Earth, regarding what to call these certain configurations of stars).
The practical uses of astronomy, and the needs for the same, in order to make efficient—through astrological divination—the tasks of the decision-makers in charge of agriculture, construction, and long distance travel and trade across highly undifferentiated deserts, mountain ranges, flood plains and seas fostered the development of mathematics and more accurate predictions and cal- endars. Each of these factors was present in the cultures of Mesopotamia as well as Egypt, though the transition into extensive astrology lagged behind. Additionally, personal revelations based on an individual’s birthdate could issue which would help them determine what their lucky num- bers were, whom they might be compatible with, the best days to treat a medical illness, or what their lucky days might be to inaugurate or cease a particular activity, and so on. By contrast, the physical environments and cultural legacies of sub-Saharan Africans was notably different from those of the Mediterranean-rim cultures from which arose astrology and Hermetcism (please see the works of Cheick Anton Diop or the excellent “African Religions and Philosophy” by the renown- ed John Mbiti for clarifications on the differences).
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The esteemed Dr. Wande Abimbola, the awise (pronounced ‘a-we-shay’) of Ifa religion based in Ile Ife) is the 5th ranked babalawo in the world. He is a master of knowledge and diplomacy whom I liken to the Dalai Lama as one of my favorite theologicans to have ever lived. He has stated that there is no significant history of astrological arts among our religious ancestors. Please be refer- red to “Ifa Will Mend This Broken World,” an interview of him by Ivor Miller for the following quot- ation:
Asks Mr. Miller:
“(A) Cuban babalawo tell(s) me that they study the movement of the planets,
positions of the stars before conducting important ceremonies (?)”
Dr. Abimbola responded:
“This was never an important part of our own religion in Africa. They may have
imbibed that from some other African groups in Cuba, or from some other sour-
ces. We live in the dense forested areas, where we cannot see the sky well. People
who can see the sky live in the grasslands areas, and are pastoral people who fol-
low cattle and sheep. Anything relating Ifa to star gazing was developed in the
Diaspora. To be sure we have some rudimentary ideas about the stars and the
moon, but they are not an important part of our belief and divination system.”
Respectfully submitted to my egbon ati abure ire mi, y a mis mayores y minores,
Alashe Michael omo’Oshoosi,