WHAT AIN'T IN IFA--ASTROLOGY
A Quick Review of Two Sample YouTube Videos Suggesting That Astrology
Is A Part of Orisha/Ifa Religion.
“West Africa’s Orisha and Astrology”
By Soyinka I Ogunbusola (posted by Chief Awodele Ifayemi)
Here we find the author, an African-American science fiction writer, and a member of the American Federation of Astrologers, is one who definitively asserts—not simply who likens Orisha/Ifa relig- ion to KMT astrology--but who 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 pub- lic 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 so 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” or the moon as "phenomena"—or, with the exception of the radiant power of the sun and the gravitational power of the moon ,even astronomical ones for that matter-- let alone that they possessed beliefs or the mathematical legacy necessary for a system or a school of astrology)?
“…“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 tury 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 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 Her- metic 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 (Bas- tet), and the Twelfth House (Sekhmet). And, as mentioned, in modern west- ern astrology, these deities are replaced by Zodiacal signs and planets.
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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,” but 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 wis- dom, nor in the 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 plan- etary 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 tha t 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 devices 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 as serting 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 children”= "yeye omo eja").
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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, had temper- aments (and thus, personalities) with emanating “energy” (light, and nothing else) capable of gov- erning the terrestrial, social, and personal fates of events and human destinies on Earth. Its relig- ious rituals are in the nature of astrological chart constructions, and its ceremonies consists of con- ventions in which its adherents enjoy pontification about each others' canons and conventions of belief (or debate them). This is it; pure and simple.
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 planet s must also have causal influences on earth. By comparison to astronomical narratives today, little was actually known.
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). The truly ancient Egyptians of the early dynastic periods were able to mathematically calcul- ate 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).
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 inaugur ate 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).
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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 mis mayores y minores,
Alashe Michael omo’Oshoosi,